New York City

Here's How to Keep Children From Starting House Fires, According to the FDNY

Keep kids away from stoves and make sure they know the danger of lighters, matches and candles

What to Know

  • A child playing with burners on a stove sparked one of the deadliest fires in New York City history
  • The FDNY says curious kids are a major cause of fires and that the majority of home fires start in the kitchen
  • The FDNY has a number of safety recommendations to keep your kids safe from fire, including creating a kid-free zone around the stove

A fire that killed at least a dozen people in the Bronx this week was sparked by a child playing with a stove, authorities say. Kitchen fires make up 50 percent of all apartment fires and they’re the leading cause of home fires and fire injuries, according to the FDNY. 

Children cause thousands of home fires each year by playing with matches, lighters or candles, the FDNY says. Kids have a natural curiosity about fire and what to know how it looks and feels, what it can do, and how it will burn.

In the wake of the tragic Bronx fire, here’s how to keep your kids safe from fires in the home.

Witnesses at the scene of a deadly fire at an apartment building near the Bronx Zoo describe children with bare feet trying to escape the flames. Michael George reports.

Quick facts about home fires:

• More than half of all home fire deaths occur between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.

• More than a third of home fires occur during the months of December, January and February.

• Children are a major cause of fire, often because they are playing with lighters, matches or candles. Fires caused by kids most often start in bedrooms.

• The FDNY’s top three safety tips: Install smoke and carbon monoxide detectors; Have a home fire escape plan, and practice it; Conduct a safety inspection of potential fire hazards in your home and eliminate them.

[NATL-NY] Dramatic Images: Firefighters Battle Fatal Bronx Blaze

What you can do to keep fire out of the hands of kids:

• Have a matches and lighter round-up. Ask your children to tell you where all the matches and lighters are located throughout your home.

• Store lighters and matches out of sight and reach, preferably in a locked cabinet or drawer.

• Check under beds and in closets for burned matches or hidden lighters. Approximately half of the child fire starters had previously played with matches or a lighter

• Use a "don't touch" approach with children under five years of age. Instruct them to show you any unattended matches or lighter. Reward them with praise when they do.

• Instruct older children to bring matches or lighters to you.

• If a child expresses curiosity about fire or has been playing with fire, calmly but firmly explain that matches and lighters are tools, not toys.

• Do not use lighters as a source of amusement for a child. Children may seek out the lighter and imitate you.

• Older children should be taught how to use matches and lighters safely. A child's curiosity may be satisfied if he or she is entrusted to use matches in appropriate situations. Children should be asked to promise to use fire only in the presence of a parent.

• Never leave a child unattended in a room with a lit candle. Don't allow teens to have candles in their bedrooms.

• Smokers should be conscious of children in the home and keep their smoking materials out of sight and reach of children.

• Children must be supervised. Most fires started by children occur when they do not have adult supervision.

• Multi-purpose and cigarette lighters by federal standard must be child-resistant. However child-resistant is not childproof. Children as young as two years old are capable of lighting cigarette and multi-purpose lighters.

• Some children light fires for reasons other than curiosity. A change or crisis like death, divorce or moving can trigger fire-setting behavior in kids. If you suspect a child is intentionally setting fires, contact the FDNY's Bureau of Fire Investigation's Juvenile Fire-setters Intervention Program at 718-722-3600.

How to prevent kitchen fires if you have kids:

• The FDNY suggests enforcing a kid-free zone of three feet around your stove.

• Kids love to reach, so use the back burners of your stove whenever possible.

• Make sure hot food is kept away from the edges of your counters. Also keep the area around the stove clear of towels, papers or anything flammable.

• Turn pot and pan handles toward the back of the stove so you don’t knock them over by accident and so kids can’t reach them.

• Have a pot lid and container of baking soda handy to smother a pan fire. The FDNY says you shouldn’t use water to put out a stove fire, because it can cause the flames to spread.

• Never carry or hold a child while cooking on the stove.

• One-third of kitchen fires result from unattended cooking. Don’t become distracted by attending to children or answer phone calls or doorbells while cooking.

• If young children are interested in what you’re doing, move a high chair within reach so they can see what’s going on without being in harm’s way.

• If children are helping in the kitchen, make sure they’re not wearing anything that’s big or loose, because baggy sleeves and clothing can catch fire or get caught in equipment.

• There are a wide variety of products to childproof your stove. Many of them cover or lock the burner knobs, keeping children from turning them. They run anywhere from $5 to $10 and are sold online. Search "childproof stove" or "stove knob covers" in Google. There are also "stove guards" and "stove screens," which are basically pens that go in front of the stove to keep children from accessing the burner or oven. 

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